Grade Levels: K-3

This page contains information to support educators and families in teaching K-3 students about reading maps.  The information is designed to complement the BrainPOP Jr. movie Reading Maps. It explains the type of content covered in the movie, provides ideas for how teachers and parents can develop related understandings, and suggests how other BrainPOP Jr. resources can be used to scaffold and extend student learning.

Reading maps is an important skill that even the youngest of students can learn and develop from an early age. Reading maps combines reading and math skills and helps build spatial sense and visual literacy. Remind your children that a map is a tool that shows details about an area. A map can show continents, countries, states, and cities or show the roads and landmarks of a town. It can show routes of a transportation system, such as bus or subway lines, different landforms and elevations, different kinds of natural resources, or varying temperatures in a specific area. A map can also show historical data, such as changes in population, housing development, or crime. A globe is a map on a round model that shows places on Earth. Display different maps for your children and discuss what information each map communicates. Then point out different parts of the map such as the map key or map legend, scale, and compass rose.

Review with your children that a map key or map legend is a chart that explains what symbols mean on a map. On many navigational maps, a black dot stands for a city, a star stands for a state’s capital, and a star inside a circle stands for a country’s capital. Airplanes stand for airports and black or yellow lines stand for highways, roads, or streets. Different maps have different symbols, though many share the same basic symbols. Remind your children that they should always look at the map key or legend to figure out what the symbols mean. There are also other symbols or markings that may not be in a typical map key. Green shading usually stands for a park; blue shading usually stands for a body of water such as a pond, lake, sea, or ocean; thin blue lines stand for rivers, streams, or creeks; and brown shading sometimes stands for deserts or plains. Non-navigational maps, such as temperature maps or rainfall maps, use different symbols, so children should look at the map key to gain a better understanding.

Many maps have a compass rose, which is a tool that displays directions. The cardinal directions are north, east, south, and west. The intermediate directions are the points in between the cardinal directions: northeast, northwest, southeast, and southwest. You may want to teach your children a mnemonic to remember the cardinal directions, such as “Never Eat Soggy Waffles” or “Never Eat Shredded Wheat.” Encourage your children to come up with their own mnemonics. Many maps also have a scale, which is a tool that compares distance on a map to distance on Earth. The scale helps the user figure out real-life distances by looking at a map. For example, suppose there is a map where 1 inch represents 1 mile. Two landmarks that are 3 inches apart on the map are 3 miles apart on Earth. Different maps have different scales so children should always refer to the map key or legend to look for the scale.

Maps help people navigate, or find their way around an area. Display a simple map and have children give verbal or written directions to go from one location to another. You may wish to model an example first. Children should use sequence words, such as first, second, third, and then. We recommend watching the How-to Essay movie together as a review. They should also use language that describes direction, such as left, right, straight, and turn, and use cardinal directions and landmarks to make their directions as clear and easy as possible for the listener or reader.

Maps are not only useful tools, but they also give people a sense of place in a world. Maps vary greatly, so encourage your children to analyze maps and find different examples. Maps allow children to explore their world without having to leave their homes!

Filed as:  K-3, Reading Maps